David Price started off his night in auspicious fashion. He took a few moments before throwing the first pitch to painstakingly adjust his cup on national television. Then he showed off the size of his balls with his pitching, completing his nine innings of game 163 with a determined, fearless, and scrappy performance. Pitchers of Price's talent level and skin color may rarely get called scrappy, but that's exactly what his 117 pitch, seven hit, one walk, four strikeout night was. He never did get his secondary pitches (changeup, curve, and cutter) rolling, but it didn't matter. He only induced four swinging strikes all night, but it didn't matter. To be an ace, you need to be able to get it done even when you're not at your best, and Price is an ace.
As has been much discussed leading up to this game, Texas has hit Price hard. It would be easy to understand if Price were to nibble around the zone, staying away from hitters in an attempt to avoid hard contact. But Price knows that avoiding contact just makes a pitcher predictable, so instead he sought it out. Price slung fastball after fastball inside, often up and in. He attacked the Rangers' hands, going to the outside edge of the zone just enough to keep them honest. Against Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz, most lefties have too much fear of the home run to pitch like that. Price had none.
The First Inning
Before Price even took the field, the Rays got out of the gates fast, sort of. Desmond Jennings, playing in his first game since injuring his hamstring turned on the first pitch from Martin Perez and pulled it down the left field line. He was psyched to be back in the lineup, he was happy to contribute, and hey, he's Desmond Jennings—he knew it was a double. He couldn't really run, though, and Craig Gentry, playing in left, fielded the ball quickly and threw him out with plenty of time to spare. Jennings's bat looked good all game, but until he's back to himself (next year, I imagine), those situations on the base paths may be touch and go.
With one out and the bases empty, Wil Myers took a four pitch walk and Ben Zobrist followed it up with a base hit through the left side of the infield (Adrian Beltre, also playing on a gimp leg, looked unlike the great fielding third baseman he is and didn't come near to making a play). Evan Longoria hit a line drive through the infield past second base, but Myers broke back to the bag before he was sure it was going to get past Kinsler and had to stop at third, so the bases were loaded with one out. Delmon Young gave a great at bat that culminated in a healthy swing on a pitch on the outside edge of the plate, sending it to the warning track in opposite field and sacrificing in the first run of the game.
Everyone knew what was going to happen this game. The Rangers are an aggressive, running team. The Rays are bad at throwing runners out. Price is one of the offenders: a lefty with a poor pickoff move. After all, Texas had taken advantage of the Rays earlier in the season so of course it would happen again. When Elvis Anrus walked on four pitches in the bottom of the first inning it seemed like the track meet was going to get under way sooner rather than later.
Except that David Price had other ideas. With Rios at the plate, in a 2-1 count, Price threw over to first. Then he threw over again. Then he held set just a bit longer than he had before and Andrus started to lean, certain Price would finally go to the plate. He didn't. Price threw to first once more, and Loney blocked Andrus's dive with his leg as he received the throw to clear the bases.
Two innings later, Craig Gentry hit a hard grounder to Yunel Escobar, but the sure-handed shortstop couldn't handle it, and it kicked off his glove into the outfield for a single. Leonys Martin moved him to second with a groundout, and Gentry was able to score on a bloop line drive from Ian Kinsler that sailed just a bit too far for the retreating Zobrist to catch up. That, after Andrus popped out foul, once again put a speed on the bases with Rios at the plate. Kinsler thought he had Price timed up, but he didn't. The Texan went early before Price had started his motion, and Price was able to see him and throw to first, putting Kinsler in a rundown and ending the inning.
Desmond Jennings lead off the third with a walk (after being down in the count 0-2). After his earlier adventure on the base paths, he wasn't going to steal. Evan Longoria made sure he didn't need to run at all. With two outs, Longoria unloaded on a fastball low and inside, but as he's done so well of late, he stayed within the ball and drove it to opposite field. Some players need to pull pitches to generate power, but not Evan. That's why the flashes he's shown of a low strikeout, opposite field approach that would still maintain his prodigious power are so tantalizing. It looks like he's executing that approach well over the last few games.
In the fourth inning, James Loney tried to channel his inner Longoria as he hit a long fly ball to left-center field, but he didn't quite have the oomph, and Martin traveled a long way to collect it at the wall.
Martin Perez pitched a strong game. In five innings he struck out five Rays, and it looked to me like he was settled in, going more and more to his superior changeup. In the sixth inning, though, after he retired Zobrist, Ron Washington decided that Perez should not face Longoria for a third time, and lifted him in favor of Alexi Ogando. No matter, Longo drove an outside fastball from the righty the other way again for a double. After Delmon Young grounded out, David DeJesus pinch hit for the lefty-masher Sean Rodriguez, and did his job, going after a 96 mph fastball down the middle with a level swing and ripping it down the right-field line for an RBI double of his own.
The Rangers immediately took the run back in their half of the inning. With one out, Price left a changeup over the heart of the plate to Andrus, who lined it into center for a single. For a third time there was speed at first base and Alex Rios batting, but this time things went Texas's way. Andrus got a good jump and stole second handily, and then Rios connected with a grooved fastball and bounced it high of the left-field wall, missing a home run by only a few feet. DeJesus played the carom badly, but with Andrus already at second it likely didn't matter. Price got out of the inning with two soft ground balls.
In the top of the seventh, the Rays got two men aboard against Jason Frasor via the walk while recording two outs. With Delmon Young up, Washington made another change, asking for former Royals closer Joakim Soria. Young looked at elevated slider before hitting the second one for a sinking line drive into center field. Martin charged and did this (thanks to Bryan Kilpatrick for the gif):
Martin sold it as a catch, and the left-field umpire bought what he was selling. The situation was best described by Roger Mooney, a paragon of journalistic objectivity:
Good thing they have those extra umps in the OF or they might have missed that call on sinking line drive by #Rays Young— RMooneyTBO (@RMooneyTBO) October 1, 2013
Next year there will be replay to deal with situations like this. This year, the score remained 4-2.
With Price at 86 pitches going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Maddon started thinking about making a change. While Price started the inning, Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee began to get loose in the bullpen. Price would not need them, recording his first swinging strikeout of the night against Nelson Cruz on a foul-tipped changeup, a groundout from Mitch Moreland, and a fly out from Craig Gentry. It took Price 12 pitches to get out of the inning, so Maddon naturally got Joel Peralta up during the top of the eighth. Everyone thought Maddon would go to his usual eighth inning man. He didn't.
Instead Maddon sent Price back out. The TBS broadcast figured that he would just be in there to face the lefty, Leonys Martin, and I concurred. Martin tried to bunt an inside fastball and instead took it off his finger. In obvious pain, he continued the at bat, so Price went right back in on his hands again and was rewarded with an undoubtedly excruciating soft liner to second base. Now it would be Peralta's turn to face the tough righty Ian Kinsler, right? Wrong. Price got another shot, but Kinsler pulled a 93 mph fastball past third base and against the side wall. The bounce wrong-footed DeJesus, who misplayed it into a double. Now Peralta? No. The Rays bullpen was tired from it's recent high-leverage exploits, and Maddon trusts his ace.
Elvis Andrus tried to bunt for a base hit up the first base line, and he laid it down nearly perfectly. Price got off the mound well, and scooped the rolling bunt a few feet away from the first base bag, but with Andrus running, he didn't have time to transfer the ball for an underhand toss, so he calmly flipped it to Loney with his glove for the second out of the inning. The third out came much more easily, on a routine grounder to shortstop.
Sam Fuld Things
For all his eighth inning heroics, I wonder if Price would have been given the chance to complete his game and save the bullpen if he had been carrying only a two run lead into the ninth. Luckily, he got an insurance run. After watching three balls and two strikes, all fastballs, defensive replacement Sam Fuld lined the sixth fastball Tanner Scheppers showed him back up the middle for a single. Myers grounded out to third but moved Fuld over.
Smoltz had been noting Scheppers's unorthodox wide stance from the stretch, and wondering how nimble he could be out of it. He looked like a genius when Fuld noticed the same thing and decided to take advantage. Once again, thank you Bryan Kilpatrick from SB Nation central:
Although he was at 108 pitches already, the final three outs were never in doubt for David Price.
Some other notes:
- You know that the stolen base is overrated when a broadcaster points to Elliot Johnson as an example of what the Rays were missing this year.
- In the first inning, John Smoltz described how to attack aggressive, free swingers while Delmon Young worked a patient, discriminating at bat. I'm starting to think there's something new and real going on with Young's approach. We'll investigate.
- Kevin Kiermaier actually got in the game as a ninth inning defensive replacement for Wil Myers, playing center field and pushing Fuld to right.